More often than not, the first reading for the liturgy correlates to the Gospel, and today's texts are no exception. The motif is suffering -- first bemoaned by Job, and then faced head-on by Jesus.
|Fifth Sunday in
|Job 7:1-4, 6-7
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Job's litany of misery stands in sharp contrast to the healing power of God made manifest in Jesus. Without hesitation, Jesus reached out to Simon's mother-in-law, healed her and helped her up. He spent the evening healing all who came to him.
The next day, Jesus went off to pray, and then continued his mission of alleviating the suffering of others. Later, by his own innocent suffering and death, Jesus gave suffering a whole new meaning.
Suffering for the sake of others; death endured by a just one for the purpose of redeeming the unjust -- in this we find a profound, almost inscrutable mystery. It is a mystery into which those who follow Jesus must let themselves be led. Suffering is not an end in itself.
In their experience of suffering, contemporary believers should be able to confess, as did Job: "I know that my redeemer lives" (19:25) and "My footsteps have followed close in [God's] ... I have walked in his way without swerving" (Job 23:11). Through this truthful confession, the suffering that inevitably shapes our lives will find both meaning and purpose in the redemptive action of Jesus Christ.
Finding a segue between the Job text, the Marcan Gospel and the excerpt from Paul's letter to the Corinthians is challenging, to say the least. But Paul's conviction regarding his preaching of the Gospel commands our attention. Like Jeremiah, who could not help but speak God's word, Paul felt a compulsion to preach the good news of salvation.
As Charles Cousar has explained, the compulsion Paul speaks of here does not refer to an irresistible impulse of the psyche or an irrational drive that coerces him into preaching against his better judgment (Texts for Preaching, Westminster John Knox Press, 1993). Paul's compulsion was derived from the nature of the Gospel and from his sense of his own responsibility as one called by God. The Gospel is not only to be heard and enjoyed, but also lived and preached in word and in deed.
Because of its revelatory character and its salvific message, the Gospel, Paul insisted, is for everyone. For that reason, he, by his own admission, made himself a slave to all, so to win over to God as many as possible. He did not select those whom he thought worthy of his message.
I can almost hear the words of Pope Francis on Paul's lips: "Who am I to judge?" I can also hear him say, "If God made you, then you -- regardless of your race, gender, ethnicity, social status or checkered past -- are someone I have been sent to tend and to evangelize."
Centuries after Paul the apostle and evangelist, Pope Paul VI defined evangelization as the "process of bringing good news into all the strata of humankind and, through its influence, transforming from within and making it new" (Evangelii Nuntiandi).
Both Pauls understood that salvation is both existential and eschatological. The Gospel must speak to the here and now as well as the world to come. For that reason, those who preach, teach and witness to the Gospel are to be concerned with human advancement, justice and liberation, as well as the future participation of all of humankind in the reign of God. In the daily process of evangelization, disciples of Jesus will meet many Jobs and ailing mothers-in-law. Human suffering and unspeakable horrors are everywhere, and must be addressed.
We could become overwhelmed by the enormity of the human situation and the seeming depravity of so many people. But instead of being discouraged, believers might take a cue from Mother Teresa, Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and others like them.
These good people tended to the Lazarus at their gate. With great generosity, they fed the hungry, clothed the naked and eased the suffering in their respective neighborhoods. So convinced were they of the Gospel's promise of salvation for all, they turned away no one who came to them in need. Like Paul, they were compelled to do what they did, and, as with Paul, their goodness and enthusiastic service were contagious, inspiring many to follow their lead.
[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]